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Homebrew Lightning Detector

This ongoing home-grown project arose from curiosity about how to accurately detect lightning strikes in the local area, and if it could be done using low cost hardware.

The design and assembly of a new RF capture daughter board, enclosure, and an updated LCD display is the focus of this group project.

Participating members will enjoy making their own detector and can also take advantage of its other capability as a precision GPS locked accurate time clock, plus a precision pressure sensor.

The Project

The project was originally devised by Bob VK4YA when it seemed apparent that accurate strike locations were not being presented by the readily available on-line lightning tracker solutions. Being financially challenged, Bob also wondered if it was possible to devise a more accurate homebrew lightning detector suitable for local area strikes with a target cost of around $100 (without the LCD Display).

After operating for several months with just a handful of prototypes at members homes around Bayside, some merit in the chosen solution has been achieved so far. The next step is to widen the detection zone and to 'productionise' the prototype design. To devise a nice  housing for the unit and its LCD touchscreen, and to optimise the design of the RF Capture and GPS piggy-back board.

As the complexity of these tasks is not great, it therefore presents an ideal scenario for anyone interested in learning how to design some electronics starting with a block diagram and taking it through all the steps to produce a circuit diagram and then a printed circuit board. After that, there is of assembly (surface mount) and the design of some 3D printed enclosure parts.

Along the way, there will be opportunities to do a bit of simple circuit simulation (RF filters) and to scratch our heads as to how on earth does this thing actually 'triangulate' lightning strikes?! - It turns out its not a straight forward to do as it first appears; mathematically minded people might be able to add their insight.

The Project

The Project Structure and Roadmap

Ultimately the goal of the project is go from start to a finish undertaking a simple electronic design using CAD tools. From this experience, all participants will have had the opportunity to learn how to do the same with their own projects.
The project steps to design a ‘productionised’ daughter board are expected to be be:-
•    Circuit diagram analysis/understanding of the existing daughter board schematic; This is using KiCAD which is free.
•    Review of spec, and then design of a cut-down, specific purpose only daughter board schematic.
•    From the schematic, design of a suitable form factor PCB using mostly surface mount devices.
•    Production of design files to be sent to China for bare PCB production.
•    Acquisition of components from distributors.
•    Building of boards using SMT equipment.
•    Commissioning, identification and rectification of faults.
•    Design of a suitable enclosure/LCD housing for the unit.
•    Assembly of units and deployment.


 

How to Join in

Everyone will have different levels of skill and expectations of things they want to learn or see.  It will be assumed that most people wish to learn how to go about designing and building a small electronics project using modern methods but  only have basic knowledge of the subject areas.

Delivery:

The project will be led by Bob VK4YA assisted by David VK4ZF. It will use using a variety of communication methods including practical meet-ups, workshops, live and recorded videos.

Duration:

Its expected that the project will be operating for four to six months. After that time everyone should have their own detector device (or GPS clock!). Meet ups will be monthly, possibly at the Tech nights, but there will be more frequent virtual sessions (probably weekly) using Discord and online tools.

Cost:

The total component cost without the LCD is expected to be around $100. The optional LCD is about $50 and the case is yet to be determined. While it is hoped every participant will be aiming to have their own device, it should be possible to enjoy following the project without making that commitment. We will be doing a group buy of components etc.

Next Steps:

  1. Call or send an email to David electronics@bdars.org.au to let him know you are interested in participating in the project. Dave will coordinate the group so we can find mutually agreeable times to meet etc.

  2. Head over to the BDARS Sharepoint file area for this project, to get a taste of  what's to come with Bob's first recorded video about installing KICad, and you can also look at the original prototype circuit and PCB that's already been done.